Something a little different, this time around.
I’ve recently received a flood of emails sourced from the email link on this page, asking me lots of questions about comics scripts again. Specifically, what do they look like and how you can get hold of one.
So here’s one.
It’s the script for the first segment of DARK BLUE, a six-part story currently being serialised in Avatar Press’ THRESHOLD anthology. (You can find more information on it, including art, at http://www.warrenellis.com at and http://www.avatarpress.com/ , but you’ll have to dodge the Avengelyne stuff there…!)
DARK BLUE is illustrated by a very gifted and inventive young artist called Jacen Burrows. He’s very smart, very intuitive, has a compositional eye that’s developing in leaps and bounds, and therefore doesn’t need a lot of direction. Some artists need to be led by the nose to get to the image you’re trying to achieve. Jacen gets there first time, and does it better than you’re seeing it in your own head. So, once I’ve got him used to the way I write and the way I see things, I can do what I like to to with clever artists. No, not kill them. I start to suggest instead of request. I can describe a character in a few broad strokes suggestive of looks and expression and background and let the artist build the visual representation – which they have to be happy and comfortable with because they’re the one who’s going to be drawing them for months – from inference. I can talk about Frank Christchurch’s dead eyes and Deb Thorogood’s cropped hair and men’s suits and what comes out is the face and the body language that I wanted, embodied in a visual code that Jacen is happy and comfortable with.
Comics writing is not about sprinkling the magic fairy dust of Collaboration around, nor is it about making the artist march in lockstep to your Nuremburg prclamations. It’s about making the artist look good. And artists will always produce their best work when they’re happy about the method. And DARK BLUE is Jacen’s best work to date.
DARK BLUE is written for black-and-white publication. It is a Mature Readers project, which means there is violence, strong language and scenes of drug use and vicious cigarette smoking within. If God told you that this sort of thing will make you blind, then turn back now.
Okay; let’s see if CBR’s webslaves can cope with the formatting, weird tabulation, two different fonts and boldfacing of what follows…
PAGE ONE Pic 1; We’ll kick off with this in six-grid, to get the pacing down — three rows of two equal-sized panels — opening with:
A long dark corridor, with flickering light at the end; strobing light, throwing weird shapes back down the corridor walls towards us. Maybe try tilting the image to the left within the frame, too… (no dialogue) Pic 2; Close in; to find the light spilling out into the corridor from the small glass section in a heavy closed door at the corridor’s end. Metal reinforcement grid in the windowglass. we’re still a little way from it… if you tilted to the left in the last shot, tilt to the right in this one… (no dialogue) Pic 3; Get right up close to the windowglass, looking in, seeing dark figures throw strange shadows up crazily tilting walls… (no dialogue) Pic 4; INSIDE: a plain box room, lit by a failing flourescent strip on the ceiling. One chair. Two people. Sitting on the chair, hands cuffed behind the chair back, a wiry young man called CASE, stripped to the waist, barefoot.
Standing over him, wearing a black suit and white shirt, an older, dark haired man, lean and worn; FRANK CHRISTCHURCH. Harvey Keitel to the other man’s young Keanu Reeves, if you like. Dead eyes, that’ve seen far too much. No need for detail here… Pic 5; …because, here, we see Frank in close-up; a portrait of a cop who’s losing it. Weird low lighting on him from above, from the failing striplight, throwing weird shadows across his face… Pic 6; No pic here; just an all-black panel with the text: dark blue by WARREN ELLIS and JACEN BURROWS
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS.
YOU TELL ME WHAT I NEED TO KNOW RIGHT GODDAMN NOW.
AND I DON’T STAMP YOUR DICK OFF AND BUTTFUCK YOU WITH THE SMASHED REMAINS.
We’ll kick off with this in six-grid, to get the pacing down — three rows of two equal-sized panels — opening with:
A long dark corridor, with flickering light at the end; strobing light, throwing weird shapes back down the corridor walls towards us. Maybe try tilting the image to the left within the frame, too…
Close in; to find the light spilling out into the corridor from the small glass section in a heavy closed door at the corridor’s end. Metal reinforcement grid in the windowglass. we’re still a little way from it… if you tilted to the left in the last shot, tilt to the right in this one…
Get right up close to the windowglass, looking in, seeing dark figures throw strange shadows up crazily tilting walls…
INSIDE: a plain box room, lit by a failing flourescent strip on the ceiling. One chair. Two people. Sitting on the chair, hands cuffed behind the chair back, a wiry young man called CASE, stripped to the waist, barefoot.
Standing over him, wearing a black suit and white shirt, an older, dark haired man, lean and worn; FRANK CHRISTCHURCH. Harvey Keitel to the other man’s young Keanu Reeves, if you like. Dead eyes, that’ve seen far too much. No need for detail here…
…because, here, we see Frank in close-up; a portrait of a cop who’s losing it. Weird low lighting on him from above, from the failing striplight, throwing weird shadows across his face…
No pic here; just an all-black panel with the text:
picked out in white.
CUT TO: a police station’s detectives’ office, a central bullpen of desks ringed by closed-door offices. Walking towards one of those closed doors, wending through the desks and past the men, is THOROGOOD, a female detective in her early thirties (favouring men’s suits, hair cropped short and very blonde). Badge and gun visible on her belt.
Top half of the page, let it breathe.
Lower half of the page; a row of three tall equal-sized panels.
Jump ahead a few secs; to find her not bothering to stop and knock and going straight to opening a door whose glass panel has the lettering LT. G.S. ABBEY pasted on it.
|THOROGOOD;||LOU? LOOKING FOR FRANK. HE PULLED IN BRIAN CASE AND THEN VANISHED. GOT A CLUE?|
Lt G.S. ABBEY is in the process of tying off and shooting up. He glares at Thorogood.
|ABBEY;||DON’T YOU FUCKERS EVER KNOCK?|
|ABBEY;||DOWNSTAIRS, FAR INTERVIEW CELL.|
|ABBEY;||NOW GET YOUR ASS OUT OF HERE. I’M BUSY. CAN’T YOU SEE I’M BUSY?|
Close in on Abbey; a very thin, tired man in his late forties, close-cropped grey hair thinning badly, skin pulling tightly over sharp bone structure. White shirtsleeve rolled up; sad, black-circled eyes concentrating on the exposed pale underside of his forearm, all scarred…
|ABBEY;||BUSY. TOUGH JOB.|
|ABBEY;||NOT AS TOUGH AS I USED TO BE.|
CUT TO: Thorogood jogging quickly down a flight of stone stairs in a concrete stairwell.
CUT TO; the interview room door: odd angle on it again.
REPEAT previous shot — but now black BLOOD has shot all over the windowglass, from inside…
CUT TO; Thorogood running down the corridor towards us.
She gets to the door, sees the blood, shouts —
|THOROGOOD;||FRANK, DAMNIT —|
She has her hand on the butt of her weapon as she barges into the room —
|THOROGOOD;||DETECTIVE CHRISTCHURCH! STAND DOWN!|
FULL PAGE PANEL.
Case is still in his chair, but the chair’s on the floor, on its side, Case now facing the door we’re entering through.
His face is mostly torn off, an appalling tangle of flapping skin, tendons, meat and blood. His wide eyes plead.
Christchurch is hunched over him, sweating profusely, blood on his fingers and on the butt of the gun he’s holding by the barrel in his right hand.
He looks up at us, wild-eyed.
|FRANK;||HE KNOWS WHERE WAYMAN IS.|
Thorogood barrels into the room, shoving Christchurch back away from Case. Page wide panel, about a third of the page deep, plenty of space to get some dynamism into the panel…
|THOROGOOD;||BACK OFF! RIGHT THE FUCK NOW!|
|FRANK;||HE KNOWS! HE FUCKING KNOWS!|
|FRANK;||GET, GET, GET THE FUCK OFF ME — I’M GOING TO TEAR IT OUT OF THE LITTLE MOTHERFUCKER|
(note to letterer — no, there is no full stop on the end of that last line. Deliberate)
She draws her gun —
— CLOSE IN as she flips it around in her hand until she’s holding the butt —
— and brings it down hard on Christchurch’s head, really fucking cracks him one on top of the head — all very fast, this, staccato panelling —
Christchurch crumples to his knees, holding his head. Thorogood strides quickly back to the door.
|THOROGOOD;||STAY THERE. I’M GOING TO FIND A DOCTOR.|
CUT TO; the door to ABBEY’S OFFICE again, ajar this time.
|FROM INSIDE;||I CRACKED HIS HEAD OPEN IN AN ATTEMPT TO LET OUT ALL THE MAD DOG’S SHIT IT’S FULL OF, SIR.|
Inside: Abbey leans back in his chair, practically on the nod, a gentle smile on his face. On the other side of the desk, Thorogood and Frank sit in cheap plastic chairs. A line of blood is drawn down Frank’s face, dripped and dried from the blow he took. Hasn’t bothered to wipe it off.
|ABBEY;||VERY COMMENDABLE, DETECTIVE THOROGOOD.|
|ABBEY;||FRANK. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?|
Frank is still intense, a bit scary, definitely a little nuts. His head inclined, eyes burning bright in the shadow…
|FRANK;||CASE HAS FENCED GOODS FOR TRENT WAYMAN, LOU. CASE KNOWS WHERE HE’S HIDING.|
Thorogood looks away, put a hand to her head either in exasperation or in expectation of a headache, or both, crossing her legs…
|THOROGOOD;||THIS GODDAMN WAYMAN THING.|
Abbey closes his eyes. Frank looks across at Thorogood, seething, rubbing his hands together nervously.
|ABBEY;||WILL YOU JUST DROP IT, FRANK? IF HE’S THE GUY YOU SAY HE IS, THEN WE’RE GOING TO GET AN INFINITE NUMBER OF CHANCES AT NAILING HIM.|
|FRANK;||YEAH. EACH TIME HE KILLS SOMEONE.|
Close on Abbey; eyes closed, hands clasped across his belly, but teeth grit. Trying to project calm when he’s crammed full of hate inside.
|ABBEY;||YOU SAY HE’S KILLED LOTS OF PEOPLE, BUT YOU’VE NEVER MANAGED TO AMASS ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO COVER YOUR ASS WITH WHEN IT COMES TO PROSECUTING THE FUCKER ON IT, FRANK.|
Close on Frank, trying to contain himself, looking practically fucking possessed as his eyes burn into ours:
Abbey waves a hand, dismissive. Frank gets up, starts towards the door. Thorogood doesn’t move —
|ABBEY;||WHATEVER. GET OUT OF HERE.|
— instead stays sat, watches Frank leave the room as she raises a hand to Abbey, a gesture that says “stop.”
|THOROGOOD;||LOU, HOLD ON. HE BEAT A SUSPECT HALF TO DEATH DOWN THERE. HE NEEDS MORE THAN WHATEVER.|
|THOROGOOD;||HE’S MY PARTNER, BUT, CHRIST, HE PULLED THIS GUY ON SUSPICION SO THIN GOD COULDN’T MAKE IT STICK AND FUCKED HIM UP SO BAD THE GODDAMN DOC CAN HARDLY LOOK AT HIM TO STITCH HIM UP.|
She leans forward, elbows on her knees, spreading her hands. Help.
|THOROGOOD;||HE’S MY PARTNER.|
|THOROGOOD;||BUT HE’S SICK.|
Abbey scratches at the fresh scab over the pinprick wound in his forearm, idly.
Frank is sitting at one of the bullpen desks, festooned with paperwork and shit, cradling his head, elbows on the desk. Thorogood walks towards there. Half the page, take in the detail, make it real…
Thorogood sits down opposite Frank, eyeing him coldly.
He looks up.
|FRANK;||LOU DIDN’T GO FOR HAVING ME SECTIONED, HUH?|
She pulls a packet of cigarettes out of her pocket, irritably, not looking at him.
|THOROGOOD;||LOU’S AN ASSHOLE JUNKIE AND WE SHOULD’VE SHOPPED HIM MONTHS AGO AND GOT OURSELVES SOME REAL COMMAND HERE.|
|THOROGOOD;||THIS ISN’T HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE, FRANK.|
He leans over the desk, eyes boring into her.
|FRANK;||TELL ME HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE, THEN, DEB.|
|FRANK;||AM I SUPPOSED TO WAKE UP CRYING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT EVERY FUCKING NIGHT? BECAUSE I DO.|
A cigarette in her mouth, she tosses the packet across the desk to him.
|FRANK;||BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, YOU’RE RIGHT.|
|FRANK;||THE DESK SARGE SHOULDN’T BE TRYING TO SELL ME PILLS WHEN I COME IN FOR MY SHIFT.|
|FRANK;||THE GODDAMN LIEUTENANT SHOULDN’T BE ON THE NOD IN THERE WITH AN ARMFUL OF HORSE.|
She flicks a Zippo lighter under her cigarette, studying him.
|FRANK;||YOU KNOW WHAT I DID WHEN I CAME IN THIS MORNING?|
|FRANK;||CLUBBED DOWN GARRY DENT. HE WAS RAPING A WHORE IN A HOLDING CELL. DOOR OPEN. RIGHT IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.|
She tosses the Zippo to Frank, who catches it, snatches it out of the air hard.
|FRANK;||KNOW WHERE CAPTAIN HODGE WAS?|
|FRANK;||TWENTY FEET AWAY, JERKING OFF INTO A FIREBUCKET.|
His cigarette lit, he stands up, tosses the Zippo back to her without looking.
|FRANK;||IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS.|
|FRANK;||BET YOU THOUGHT THAT WAS A FUCKING NEWSFLASH.|
|FRANK;||SEE YOU TOMORROW.|
CUT TO; the exterior of the PRECINCT HOUSE, an old grey stone edifice. FRANK stands in the doorway, between grey pillars under a short stone slab lip that stands on top of them. It’s raining. He stands in the entrance doorway, turns up the collars of the jacket, cold. People go up and down the short flight of stone steps to the door, past him. Cigarette in his lips.
He starts down the steps, cigarette clamped between his lips, squinting, braced against the cold of the rain. We can see, on the sidewalk, a man in a RAINCOAT walking towards us — he’s going to pass the bottom of the steps at about the same time Frank gets there.
|FRANK;||NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS.|
Bottom of the steps; and the man in the raincoat walks through Frank. Frank’s facing the street, the man facing down the sidewalk, literally walks through Frank, as if Frank wasn’t there… or, actually, as if Frank were real and the man a projection…
Frank turns and stops and stares —
— holds out a hand, and sees the raindrops fall through it…
TO BE CONTINUED
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My voluptuous website, just updated with a new front-page essay, pretty new pictures and containing an online store (carrying most things listed in INSTRUCTIONS) and a 24-hour rolling news service, is http://www.warrenellis.com.
BAD WORLD, a series of occasional articles by myself, is at http://www.themestream.com/gspd_browse/browse/
INSTRUCTIONS: Read HENGEWORLD by Mike Pitts (2000), listen to SHU-DE: Voices From The Distant Steppe (Tuvan throat-singing) (Real World, 1994) and hit The Dave Sim “Note From The President” Archive at http://www.teleport.com/~ennead/ampersand/sim/
Today’s recommended graphic novel is LAST DAY IN VIETNAM by Will Eisner (Dark Horse, 2000).